Remembering: June Schwarcz

Remembering: June Schwarcz

June Schwarcz

June Schwarcz (ca. 1965 1969). Photo: Julian Williams, from the ACC archives

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of renowned artist June Schwarcz on August 2, 2015. A longtime ACC Fellow, Schwarcz is recognized throughout the field for her inventive enamel and copper sculptures. She was 97 years old. 

Born in Denver, Colorado, on June 10, 1918, Schwarcz attended the University of Colorado (1936–1938) and the University of Chicago (1939) before moving to Brooklyn, New York, in 1939 to study industrial design at Pratt Institute. Schwarcz's first employment was in cosmetic packaging and toy design in New York. In 1943 she married Leroy Schwarcz, a mechanical engineer, and the couple had two children. Over the next few years they moved frequently, living in New York, Baltimore, and Chicago, as well as Brazil. Upon returning to the United States, Schwarcz and her children lived with her family in Denver while her husband explored job opportunities around the country.

Upon returning to Colorado, Schwarcz was introduced to enameling by friends who had taken workshops at the Denver Art Museum. Through their guidance and instruction, as well as Kenneth Bates' Enameling: Principles and Practices (World Publishing Company, New York, 1951), Schwarcz was able to quickly master the basics of enameling and, within a month, began to experiment on her own. 

In 1953, Mr. Schwarcz took a job in California and the family moved to a home in Sausalito overlooking San Francisco Bay, where Mrs. Schwarcz lived until her death. A downstairs studio in the home is where the artist mastered, combined, and expanded on techniques such as cloisonné, champlevé, and basse-taille to create her own unique etched vessels and plaques. Her engineering husband helped her set up equipment for the process of electroplating, which she used in her original technique of building up copper foil into rigid objects.

One of the first exhibitions Schwarcz participated in was "Craftsmanship in a Changing World," the inaugural show at the opening of the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in 1956. The artist subsequently participated in group and solo exhibitions the world over, and writings on Schwarcz, her work, and her own remarkable art collection span the artist's six-decade career.

Today, Schwarcz's work can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, the de Young museum in San Francisco, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Zurich Design Museum in Switzerland, to name a few. In addition to becoming an ACC Fellow in 1987 and being named an ACC Gold Medalist in 1996, Schwarcz was designated a Living Treasure of California in 1985 and also received the James Renwick Alliance Masters of the Medium Award in 2009.

Ever admired by those around her for the passion and dedication she exuded well into her nineties, the artist had this to say in one of her final interviews, given to Deborah Bishop for the June/July 2012 issue of American Craft, “You know, when you’re 93, people think you’re amazing just for getting out of bed in the morning. With a limited time to live, there’s a decision to make every day – what to spend it on, what to create."

For more on the remarkable life of June Schwarcz, check out this KQED public television interview with the artist.